Art

Koganecho: An old site in a new light

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

Koganecho Bazaar 2017’s “Double Facade: Multiple Ways to Encounter the Other” show is a bit of a mess. As an annual art event that has been running in Yokohama’s former red-light district for 10 years, using some of the former two-story brothels as studios and exhibition spaces, a feeling of scrappy, irreverent improvisation, however, is appropriate and can be considered one of the site’s advantages.

The municipal authorities and local residents might not necessarily see it that way, though. The urban renewal project was meant to “clean up” the area visually and morally with art as a useful broom with which to, eventually, sweep away the area’s history.

In the middle of various stakeholders’ different objectives, the director of the Koganecho Bazaar project, Shingo Yamano, conceived this year’s event around the social and cultural gap between the itinerate and changing community of artists-in-residence, and the local residents who are nominally meant to benefit from their work. With guest curator Kenji Kubota, this issue was expanded into a more general discussion of “otherness,” in terms of addressing the growing intolerance and right-wing populism around the world.

Irish artist Suzanne Mooney’s semi-transparent photographic installations reference Koganecho’s past through the use of selective color. In her ostensibly black-and-white photographs of cramped alleys and steep stairwells, aberrant areas of red, blue and green draw attention to the quandaries of gentrification and the conflict between censorship and candor.

Filipino artist Jayvee del Rosario’s “ReVoltezz-V in Jappon” is a no-holds-barred mixture of performance, found materials, video and noise. Del Rosario has turned the front of his exhibition space into a kitschy TV, while he himself lurks within, dressed up in a homemade robot suit, ready to spring into action when you come in the door. Besides the energetic celebration of 1970s’ anime “Chodenji Machine Voltes V,” which was a fixture of Rosario’s childhood in the Philippines, our attention is drawn to Japanese culture as being alien and fantastic. Rosario envisages himself as a heroic super-robot figure in a deliberately misspelled and self-consciously half-understood “Jappon”; not necessarily a real place, but an accumulation of cultural signifiers.

Diving deep into Japanese kitsch is Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker’s “Bosochan Tenjishitemita.” Two eye-melting rooms fitted out with floor-to-ceiling glittery bric-a-brac, texts and cartoons, this installation invites visitors to laugh at pop-idol culture, and perhaps themselves, by talking selfies. Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker’s performances were a big hit in the U.K. in 2016, however, for being everything that millennial Japanophiles want Japan to be. Double facade indeed.

More subdued and slow-burning works are Bontaro Dokuyama’s “Time Goes By,” a video documentation of Taiwanese senior citizens who try to remember Japanese songs they were taught at school during the Occupation, and artist duo Kyun-Chome’s “New Faces,” which has blindfolded foreign refugees and audience members attempting to piece together faces from paper cutout noses, eyes and lips.

The unkempt and indeterminate environment of Koganecho hangs heavily on all the work, which for the most part appears in the claustrophobic boxy rooms that were once used for sex. Koganecho Bazaar aims to support early career artists, many of whom show works-in-progress from their residencies, so the overall effect can seem like a voyeuristic journey into different psychic tableaux.

Giving some background for his choice of this year’s theme, Yamano scribbled down a pertinent quote from celebrated French poet and rake Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91) onto the back of an envelope and handed it to me while we were sitting in his makeshift and crowded headquarters, ” Je est un autre” — “I is another.”

“Koganecho Bazaar: Double Facade-Multiple ways to encounter the Other,” part 2, runs until Nov. 5; Oct. 27-11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Oct. 10, 27-29 and Nov. 2-4 until 8:30 p.m. Closed second and fourth Thu. ¥700 for a passport to all events. www.koganecho.net